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Thursday, May 24, 2007

To Infinity and Beyond

I just finished watching Infinity, a 1996 film directed by and starring Matthew Broderick about young Richard Feynman. The movie is mostly a love story, and depicts Richard's relationship with his wife Arline, her losing battle with tuberculosis, and his work at Los Alamos. It is a touching film and captures the greatness of the man. There is a particular scene early on that I think speaks toward the ongoing calculator controversy in our schools. Feynman challenges a Chinese shopkeeper to a duel of arithmetic, pitting his mental algorithms against the abacus. Feynman loses the addition round, ties on multiplication, and wins hands down on cube roots. Afterward, he explains to Arline that his win was inevitable, saying of the old man "he doesn't know numbers, he only knows beads." It is a wonderful scene, and a wonderful movie.

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